DEP Reports On 2021-22 Farmers’ Efforts To Improve Water Quality In Chesapeake Bay Watershed

On November 2, the Department of Environmental Protection announced visits to 2,670 farms in Pennsylvania portion of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed documented superefficient nutrient use on 108,000 acres and 1,524 new structural best management practices (BMPs) to improve the health of streams and rivers in Pennsylvania’s largest watershed.

“Pennsylvanians’ actions on the ground continue to demonstrate our strong commitment to improving the health of the watershed,” said DEP Acting Secretary Ramez Ziadeh. “The data show that many farms have conservation plans and are putting in place best management practices to reduce nutrient and sediment pollution here in Pennsylvania and on down to the bay.”

“Pennsylvania farmers are managing their farms in ways that protect and improve our soil and water resources,” said Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding. “These numbers make it clear that the investments we are making in conservation on our farms is paying off for all of us – our farms are feeding our future.”

In 2016, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency asked that DEP expand its agricultural compliance program to inspect 10% of the farmland in Pennsylvania’s share of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed each year.

The goal is to ensure that farms that are required to have a completed manure management plan, nutrient management plan, or agricultural erosion and sediment control plan have their plan and are implementing the BMPs specified in it.

Many agricultural BMPs help reduce nutrient (excess nitrogen and phosphorus) and sediment pollution in streams and rivers.

Examples include: applying fertilizer efficiently, practicing no-till farming, having cover crops over the winter, planting trees on streambanks, installing fencing to keep livestock out of water, protecting animal heavy use areas, having a proper manure storage, and using prescribed grazing to improve both water quality and soil health.

County conservation district and DEP regional office staff inspected 2,670 farms in 2021-22, covering 322,750 acres, or 10.5% of farmland in the watershed.

Fully 685 out of 822 farms visited for a required nutrient management plan had their completed plan and were carrying out their BMPs.

Thanks to a new tool developed by the State Conservation Commission, the 2021-22 data also documents farmers’ supplemental nutrient management practices for the first time.

Over 108,000 of the inspected agricultural acres are under “4R” nutrient management, meaning the right fertilizer source is being applied to the crop at the right rate at the right time, and in the right place.

Superefficient nutrient application is one of the most cost-effective ways to reduce excess nutrient runoff and lowers the amount of money farmers need to spend on fertilizer.

Out of 1,186 farms initially visited for a required erosion and sediment control plan, 792 had their plan.

Notably, 526 farms volunteered to demonstrate their BMP implementation at the same time and were found to be successful. Another 81 farms demonstrated BMP implementation in accordance with their plan at a second visit.

On first visits for manure management plans, 858 out of 1,250 farms had their completed plan.

Again, 527 farms volunteered to demonstrate BMP implementation at the same time and were found to be successfully achieving manure management. A further 96 farms demonstrated BMP implementation in accordance with their plan at a second visit.

Overall, the data show that farmers installed 1,524 new structural BMPs for manure management or erosion and sediment control in 2021-22.

The expanded agricultural compliance program reviews larger scale livestock or poultry operations, such as federally permitted Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations and concentrated animal operations, for nutrient management and erosion and sediment control plans. It reviews smaller operations for manure management and erosion and sediment control plans. 

One of a complement of programs that provide farmers technical assistance on water quality improvement, the compliance program enables county conservation districts to individualize education and collaboration to help a farm meet its legal requirements for conservation planning and implementation.

It also ensures that farmers’ conservation practices are counted toward Pennsylvania’s nutrient and sediment reduction goals in the watershed.

To date, the DEP agricultural compliance program has inspected 16,566 farms, comprising over 1.8 million acres, in Pennsylvania’s share of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.

To learn more, read the 2021-22 Agricultural Inspections Summary online and visit the DEP Agricultural Compliance webpage.

Pennsylvania has more than 3 million acres of farmland in the watershed, which spans all or part of 43 counties and includes over 30,000 farms.

Learn more in the Healthy Waters, Healthy Communities storymap.

Visit DEP’s Chesapeake Bay Watershed webpage to learn more about cleaning up rivers and streams in Pennsylvania's portion of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.  Click Here to sign up for regular updates on Pennsylvania’s progress.

How Clean Is Your Stream?

Check DEP’s 2022 Water Quality Report to find out how clean streams are near you.

Related Articles This Week:

-- Chesapeake Bay Foundation: Implementing Farm Conservation Practices In Pennsylvania Will Result In $352.5 Million In Economic Benefits, Support 3,457 Jobs A Year  [PaEN]

-- DEP Chesapeake Bay Update: 2021 Progress Report; Funding Assistance Available; County Clean Water Plan Implementation; Much More

-- Dept. Of Agriculture Celebrates Farm Conservation, Sustainable Ag Programs With Funding From PA Farm Bill

-- Bay Journal: Volunteers Plant Trees Around-The-Clock In 4 Pennsylvania Counties In Chesapeake Bay Watershed - By Ad Crable, Chesapeake Bay Journal  [PaEN]

-- Lancaster Clean Water Partners Newsletter: No Tricks, Just Amazing Momentum Across Lancaster!

-- Forests For The Chesapeake Bay: October Newsletter - Forests For The Bats Stories; Fall Tree Plantings In PA; Monster Trunk Tally Photo Contest Winners

Related Articles - Chesapeake Bay:

-- Bay Journal: Chesapeake Bay States To Get Millions For Climate-Smart Farm Practices

-- Final PA State Budget Includes Nearly $700 Million In Funding To Support Local And State Environmental, Recreation Infrastructure Projects!

-- Keystone 10 Million Trees Partnership Plants Its 5-Millionth Tree In Franklin County Park; Thousands Of Volunteers Were Critical To Reaching This Milestone

-- DEP Begins Accepting Applications For $103.4 Million In Abandoned Mine Reclamation Grants Starting Oct. 24

[Posted: November 2, 2022]


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